When Adam Price announced that he was going to stand down as an MP at the 2010 Westminster election, up stepped Angharad Mair to ask that Plaid Cymru waive the rules in her favour so that she could be selected to fight the seat, even though she had only just become a member. Of course I was delighted to find out that she shared our values and welcomed her support for the party ... but I thought it was presumptous—and perhaps even manipulative—for her to think she could be a candidate straight away, and I was very pleased that Jonathan Edwards was selected instead of her.
It now appears that Rhun ap Iorwerth is trying to do exactly the same thing in Ynys Môn, and my reaction is exactly the same as it was before. I'm delighted to hear that Rhun is, according to his new blog, "wholeheartedly committed to the values and ambitions of Plaid Cymru for our nation". But that's pretty much what I'd expect of any member of the party. In itself it certainly isn't something that would immediately qualify him to be a candidate in a seat that Plaid are hot favourites to retain.
Several aspects of what is happening cause me concern. The first is the idea that the National Executive of Plaid Cymru might be open to waive the rules. Fairly clearly, some senior people in Plaid Cymru think that Rhun would be ideal. In fact I'd guess it would be appropriate to take the very same words that were used in the Western Mail article four years ago and say that, "Powerful backers of
Angharad Rhun in the cultural wing of the national executive are backing her his case ... "
But what does that say about the way Plaid Cymru operates as a party? Do we want to be seen as a party in which vested interests can chop and change the rules as they see fit? I'm sure that the wave of new members that joined the party in the hope that it things would become more transparent and open when we elected Leanne as our new leader last year won't be impressed by this. It bears all the hallmarks of what Labour are already calling a "stitch-up".
Second, do we really want to be seen as a party that thinks "media personality" is a more important quality in a candidate than proven political capability? Rhun might be good at asking questions, but that's no indication of how well he will answer them. And, even more critically, we don't even know what his answers will be because he has never been called upon to put his political beliefs on the line. He is an unknown quantity. Nor has he ever put in the sheer hard graft that everyone else who might expect to be considered as a candidate will have committed themselves to, often over many years.
I hesitate to say who I think the best Plaid candidate for Ynys Môn would be because I don't live there. Provided that a candidate meets the criteria laid out by the party as a whole, I think it should be a local choice. However I can and will say that Heledd Fychan seems to me to be an ideal candidate. We know where she stands on individual issues because she has spoken about them at conference, on her blog and on the campaign trail. She has proved that she has the energy, stamina and commitment to fight elections both in her excellent preformance in Montgomeryshire for the Westminster election in 2010 and as a list candidate for north Wales in the Assembly election in 2011. She has cut her teeth on an electoral battlefield in which Rhun is still wet behind the ears.
That is not to say that Rhun doesn't have what it takes; I am only saying that he doesn't have it yet. I welcome the fact that he wants to join Plaid Cymru; I welcome his ambition for Wales and his ambition to stand as a candidate for the party; but for his sake and ours he needs to prove himself before he can do that. This by-election for the Assembly will be held in only a few weeks, but in May 2015 there will be an election for Westminster, and by then—if he puts in the spadework and shows where he stands on the issues—he might well be the ideal candidate to win back Ynys Môn for Plaid.